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China to send first woman into space tomorrow

Beijing: China will send its first woman into space when an airforce pilot joins a three-member team of astronauts on the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft which blasts off tomorrow.

Liu Yang, a pilot who successfully averted a mid-air accident after her flight was hit by 18 pigeons, would be part of the team that would perform China`s first manned space docking, in preparation for Beijing`s plan to setup a permanent space station.

"33-year-old Liu will be part of the crew of Shenzhou-9 which would be launched tomorrow form the Jiuquan space base in China`s north Gobi desert," according to an announcement by China`s manned space docking programme headquarters.

Liu`s mission will make China the third country after Russia and the US to send a woman into space. When successful, this will be China`s fourth manned space launch. Liu and her two male colleagues Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang will dock with with Tiangong-1 module currently orbting earth.

"From day one, I have been told I am no different from male astronauts," Liu, a trained pilot told state broadcaster CCTV. Relatively unknown till now, Liu`s selection against her rival Wang Yaping became a foregone conclusion as the official media here highlighted her heroics for the past few days.

Born in Henan province Liu, 34 enrolled into Changchun No 1 Flight College of the PLA airforce after graduating from high school and later became an Air Force cargo plane pilot. She is married and has a child.

China has an ambitious space programme and a white paper release last December outlines the country`s programme to conduct a human lunar landing.

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